Was lovely to stay

By Tom Briglia

Round 20, 2019
Adelaide Crows 4.1, 6.4, 10.7, 14.8 (92)
St Kilda 3.2, 5.5, 7.7, 10.10 (70)
Crowd: 39,984 at Adelaide Oval, Saturday, August 3rd at 7.10pm ACST

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Got yourself a dysfunctional club? Issues that run beyond an ageing list (but that’s actually quite talented)? Did you lose a Grand Final after dominating a season and the players have since looked exhausted and broken? Did you drop Eddie Betts, who needs to rediscover his ability to kick quality goals? Does Bryce Gibbs need a confidence boost after being bemusingly dropped several times this year? Does Tex need to feel like the captain he thinks he is (and almost sort of is)? Need a highly rated kid to lift a stadium when the game is on the line?

Have you ever considered, the St Kilda Football Club?

From Adelaide’s final quarter comeback to draw the game to 1994, to watching a wobbly performance early in 1995 in the strangely dark Football Park – in which Joshua Kitchen and Wayne Thornborrow kicked two of our three goals – to the Crows stopping our early season run on my birthday in 1996 as Ben Hart of all people took mark of the year, to the Crows bookending the 1997 run, with a trying, lonely Saturday loss in Round 15 on one side, and one of the darkest days in the club’s history on the other (the half-time scores of the games are unsettlingly similar). Then there was a humiliation at Football Club in our 1998 collapse, as the Crows went on their way to snatching a second premiership. Adelaide was chief villain in my formative years as a St Kilda supporter. In my head the Football Park crowd always seemed to have this reaction like a vigorous golf clap when the Crows kicked a goal. There was something unsettling about it.

St Kilda had always seemed small and vulnerable and wobbly and anxious interstate. Some performances in 1997 and in the better times of 1998 aside, the ability to win interstate relatively consistently throughout the GT-into-Ross Era was a welcome novelty that felt like the club had a generational armour. That is now well and truly been forgotten, as has the ability to win consistently anywhere.

That said, interstate games presented a specific problem in the Richo era. Slow starts, early blowouts, some big margins. That comes with the territory of being shithouse, but even as the team rose vaguely up the ladder, and then comically slid back down it, giving up games in the opening half hour or 45 minutes interstate have rendered so many invitations to houses deflated. There isn’t really any build up at home, if you’re watching solo (as I was on Saturday) you can from shoving your face with Joe’s fish and chips and fucking around the HDMI cable and picture settings straight to the opening bounce as glimpses on the screen of the team running out in the clash jumper to even less fanfare than usual stirred the match day butterflies that much more. No tram trip in, no scrolling through the Twitter feed for pre-match whatever, no meeting up with humans, no taking in the atmosphere of the office buildings around our Concrete Disney Store home ground. Watching at home with other humans usually means going from 0 to 100 and then the focus quickly deviating from the lost cause game to settle on the various potato chip products around us, or the M&Ms, or conversation with those we’re with related to things around the footy, occasionally punctuated by an “OH!” as in, “OH! THAT WAS SHIT, AGAIN.”

So maybe we cheekily thought that now that Richo was gone, that element of our game was gone, too. We’d decided to kick 100 points two weeks in a row for the first time this year, so why not? Adelaide Oval has given us smackings or heartbreak from both Adelaide teams. But this was different. Adelaide was on the ropes, resorting to pizza and Don Pyke showing human emotion, and we’re just happily charging along with Clark and Coffield and Marshall and Bruce on our way to unconvincing relatively high scores. Beat Adelaide and then the rest of the season just falls into place, right? Just like after Round 19 in 2009 when we were playing three not so great teams and we’d be on our way to an undefeated season. But as you near game day, logistics and machinations become a bit more real, particularly when you read the St Kilda club tweet saying Newnes and Paton are out due to puking or shitting, joining Hannebery in the puking and shitting rehab group. Those clouds that gathered over Shanghai and dumped a storm of diarrhoea and that watery vomit had come south and were poised to bring another shitty interstate game that’s done at quarter time, where everyone’s gonna be diarrhoeaing all over the place.

***

The magic cloak of a new coach was stripped off. This team was mostly the same, the same team that managed to ride adversity so handsomely at the beginning of the year and was able to reprise in recent weeks. This was not quite a wolf in sheep’s clothing, maybe just a sheep inside a more efficient sheep’s clothing. An exercise in reinforcing the state of the list, putting it in all caps so boomers can overcome their inability to understand subtlety and facetiousness online. It certainly shouldn’t make us feel much different about Ratten.

The atrocious kicking forward, shanked shots at goal from guys who couldn’t miss over the last few weeks, Parker and Long and Langlands being mostly unsighted, but then we get guys like Clark and Marshall and Coffield whose trajectories in the past couple of months in particular have been impervious to the team’s form, which says a lot about them – let alone the way they play their footy – as much as it says about this lost and its development.

Carlisle’s been copping a lot of heat but you’d need to acknowledge he didn’t really have a pre-season and I would happily break into medical records cabinets/bugged conversations with medicos that reveal his back still isn’t 100%. Of course he can’t fucking bend down that quickly right now.

Really, zero interesting things happened in this one. No wild momentum shifts, no overly incredible moments. Matt had texted me during the day on Saturday, saying. “We were so bad last year that I can’t even remember any of the games”. Much of this year will end up falling into the same footy black hole. Like the Round 6 meeting with the Crows, this was the “every week” in the “We go to the footy every week”. The narrative of the season informs the way we feel about it, but nothing hides that this is a nondescript game of footy that neutrals would not know existed, nor would there be a pressing need to call up any footage from it. Round 6 raised questions over whether we’d moved beyond 2018 really, and whether we as supporters could or wanted to get through another slog of a season. Only Matthew Parker saved that from being entirely forgettable and useless outside of some guys getting 120ish minutes of AFL footy under their belt, and maintained the early season good vibes around recruiting. Round 20 raised questions over how much of 2018 we still need to shed. This was a revert to type, but with 25% Brett Ratten thrown in. Eleven deep entries yielded 5.2, suggesting better positioning up forward and we’re using it, but 10.10 and comedy capers otherwise would suggest our players, by and large are either young or just not that good. The scoring is back to it’s bizarre consistency – let’s take a look at the big board:
13.7 (85)
10.16 (76)
9.12 (66)
10.14 (74)
15.5 (95)
10.8 (68)
10.10 (70)
10.10 (70)
10.11 (71)
9.14 (68)
9.15 (69)
11.14 (80)
8.11 (59)
10.10 (70)
11.7 (73)
8.9 (57)
17.14 (116)
15.14 (104)
10.10 (70)

Which means 12 out of 19 scores between 66 and 76, and if you want to stretch it a little further, 15 out of 19 scores between 57 and 80, and whichever way you diced that up, you finish with a shithouse percentage that like 2016 and 2017 had us effectively another game behind in the scramble for also-ran status. It’s a game we played again in 2019, but with even less of a presence.

***

A little bit like 1997, but in a quite different and infinitely more forgettable way, the Crows were bookends, sort of not really. They defused our opening season run in Round 6, and just as soon as we’d opened up a new tab and started using the Ladder Predictor with the default 20-point margins just to be safe to see what could be what – the equivalent of St Kilda smut in the post-Grand Finals era – and the Crows have walked in the door and we’ve frantically quit Chrome altogether with flushed, guilty faces. Slam down the laptop screen, angry we got caught. Go do some washing or the dishes in shamed silence.

We’ve disappeared from the conversation altogether for now. The coach isn’t that new, the loss has levelled things out and development and youth is again the order of the day. All that pressure we felt around the coaching situation – which stayed at the forefront given the wins – has now evaporated, as has an unease around the general club direction. The absurd shift to anxiety over a potential finals spot is gone now also. All of this has brought a light breeze of relief.  Footy fans get a little more reflective at this time of year. Let’s just play some young guys and see what they can do. The future is a long way away. The sun is setting a little later now,. The light is there for longer. The air isn’t as harsh. Not sure if it’s a bump in serotonin or just a reduction in general anxiety. Maybe it’s a bit of both. That’s ok, and it feels quietly ok.